As a therapist, I'm constantly encouraging my clients to journal between sessions. "Why so?" you ask? Journaling is a great way to reflect on situations that have transpired in your life and to explore your emotional responses to these events. There's something about putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper that gives you a different perspective on them. It doesn't necessarily make the feelings "go away," per se, but it can put a little space between you and those difficult emotions and sensations.
I find that when I'm personally dealing with something challenging even after only a few minutes of journaling I feel like I've gotten something "off my chest" in a safe, private environment. Sometimes I'm even able to see a more creative solution to a problem. I also use journaling to write about areas of my life where I feel stuck and want to make changes. Research shows that people who write down their goals are actually more likely to achieve them. Wow! Another great benefit of journaling. You might be thinking "Okay, this sounds great, but where do I get started?" If you've never journaled before, or haven't picked up a journal in years, it could feel a little awkward at first. You might have no idea what to write. That's why I've created this series of monthly writing prompts to get you started:
October — What are your biggest fears?
October is the month of scary goons and goblins and the like. These fearful themes are for fun, but what if we took October as an opportunity to explore our own fears and even our own mortality? Take a moment to make a list of the things that scare you. I’m not talking spiders and witches here, I’m talking fear of failure, rejection, death, commitment and loneliness. These are all normal fears to have, at any stage of life.
Write about each fear, noticing and noting what feelings and body sensations that come up as you write. Be aware of and write about early memories you have associated with each fear. There might be a lot of emotional (and even physical discomfort) that arises as you do this exercise. Know that it’s completely natural and that you can be kind to yourself and take breaks, or stop completely, if you need to.
Lastly, focus your awareness on what you can actively do to face that fear in your life (if safe to do so.) Afraid of rejection? Go for it and ask that person out on a date that you’ve been too intimidated to talk to. Scared of failure? Take that risk in work you’ve been wanting to do, but have been apprehensive about. There’s only one way out of fear — through!
November — What are you grateful for?
In the month of November, it’s natural to start thinking about what we’re grateful for (at least so we’re prepared to share a thoughtful toast at Thanksgiving dinner!) But take this natural inclination a little deeper and really dig into what you are truly thankful for in your life. Create a list of the people, attributes, possessions, opportunities etc. that contribute to making your life great.
For some, the list might be the basics: food, shelter and internet connection (you are reading this blog!) If your list is short, don’t let that discourage you. Remember that many people don’t have these basic needs met and we can often forget how fortunate we are to not have to worry about where our next meal is coming from.
Even if your list seems short, try to expand it as much as you can, adding things like “the ability to read, research and learn new information” (again, you are reading this article, so I know you have that ability!) If the list is long, great! Take a moment to feel into your sense of gratitude for all that you have in your life.
December — What are your New Year's resolutions?
Be specific and behavior-oriented. Instead of saying "I want to lose 10 pounds," say "I want to start bringing my lunch to work 4 days a week and start going for a 30-minute walk after dinner 3 days a week." This way, you have clearly-defined behavioral goals you can hold yourself accountable to. To support your goals even further, write out a big list of the potential obstacles to achieving your goal (e.g. "What if I don't have time to prepare my lunch one day?") and how you would deal with those (e.g. "Find healthy prepared food at Whole Foods.")
Focusing on our intentions helps us stay motivated by keeping an eye on the big picture. What will improve in your life following making these behavioral changes (e.g. increased energy, improved confidence and better health and longevity)? It's also important to honor the aspects of life that we will miss following this change. Write out a few aspects that you will miss (e.g. "Being able to eat whatever I want, or watch T.V. right after dinner") and take a moment to grieve the old habits. Once you see them written out next to the expected improvements in your life following this change, these will look like small potatoes in comparison! To read more about developing and achieving soul-centered goals, read this article.
Stay posted for the rest of the writing prompts in this blog series! Now I’d love to hear from you.
- Have you used journaling as a self-care strategy to improve your mental health?
- What has your experience with journaling been like for you?
- Have you been curious about journaling and not known how to get started?
- What got you interested in journaling?
Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to journal. The idea is to get the creative juices flowing and see where your writing takes you! Thanks for reading and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.